Monday, August 29, 2011

Mount St. Helens, Part II

I feel guilty blogging about adventures when my home state has been devastated by flooding. (My family and friends are all okay, though many in Vermont are temporarily stranded in areas cut off by washed-out roads.) I left on this hike before the hurricane hit New England, and returned to find news that it hit Vermont hardest. I was astounded, and my thoughts are with everyone there.

At the time, I was on the scene of a previous natural disaster, the Mount St. Helens eruption. Doug, Barb, Dilan, and I went on a hike that crossed the pumice-and-ash plains left by the blast. It was a simple out-and-back, but as hot, dusty, and dry as I normally associate with Tucson. I will tell the tale in pictures.

Doug helps Dilan with her trekking poles. Doug became quite the expert on trekking poles after a couple of hikes.
Setting forth
Who draws these things? It looks like a poop taking a poop. You're fired.
Approaching St. Helens from the east. The snow is on the intact south side of the mountain.
Colors on the inner west rim of the blast crater.
Entering the truly scoured blast zone, where there aren't even the stumps of trees. These hills (see Doug in lower R for scale) are mostly composed of pumice and ash.
Pumice pebbles. The size and texture of Corn Pops.
Dilan and yet another creative backpack arrangement.
She makes an entertaining photo subject.
More smoke/steam/rock-slide dust coming out of the main crack/gulley leading out of the crater and into the plain...
... where our trail goes.
I <3 my sun hat.
The only difference between this and hiking in the desert around Tucson is the frequent stream crossings. It's still the Northwest, but without the typical ecology.
The yellow rock smelled like the head of a match.
Spirit Lake. The light-colored floating stuff is thousands and thousands of logs, the trees that used to be on the empty plain where we walked. They were all blasted into the lake, and because life (including decomposers) in the lake was wiped out, they remain there today, barely rotted.
There is life returning to the blast plain, but slowly. Since the soil was either blasted away or buried in lava, ash, and pumice, there are few nutrients in the ground. Certain small, hardy plants are pioneers, slowly building layers of topsoil.
Lupin, the purple stuff, is a common recovery species. And it's a legume. Hooray, nitrogen!
The blast zone farther out, where trees were killed, but left standing or toppled. More nutrients here = faster recovery.
Volcanoes make pretty rocks.
Mount Adams. Consider this a "before" picture.
I was a bad National Monument visitor. I took home a natural object--a piece of pumice. I will use it to soothe roughed-up feet.


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